Imagine if you woke up tomorrow to learn the Braves had traded Jay Hey and J-Up to the Pirates for Andrew McCutchen. How would you react?
When I heard JS had swapped Marquis Grissom and David Justice to the Indians for Kenny Lofton and Alan Embree, I was thrilled. My reaction had nothing to do with Marquis and DJ, who were instrumental in securing the Braves’ only world championship. But Lofton, coming off a season in which he hit .317 with 14 homers and 75 SB, was the Rickey Henderson of his time and a Gold Glover to boot. Though it was widely assumed Lofton would be in Atlanta only one year, Andruw was waiting in the wings and the money saved in the deal made it possible for the Braves to re-sign Maddux and Glavine.
Of course, Lofton was no Rickey. Yes, he hit .333, with a .409 OBP, but played a pedestrian CF and was successful on only 27 of 47 SB attempts. He also managed to run afoul of Bobby, which is virtually impossible.
The Braves would’ve been better off trading either Marquis or DJ for a second baseman, assuming one was available, or a top prospect. This was a team that should’ve been playing for its third consecutive World Series title — instead they began a run of early playoff exits, losing 4-2 to the Marlins and Eric Gregg in the NLCS. No need to remind you who won the AL pennant.
JS’ bender continued three days later when he dealt Jermaine Dye to the Royals for Michael Tucker and Keith Lockhart, a trade that particularly irked Braves fan Elton John.
You could argue those three days in March 1997 derailed a dynasty. “This was the break-up of a very functional family,” wrote the AJC’s Steve Hummer, a prophetic description.
JS had better weeks, to say the least.